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The captains of the Sewol, the Samho Jewelry, and the Titanic

The captains of the Sewol, the Samho Jewelry, and the Titanic

Posted April. 23, 2014 06:41,   


The Sewol ferry disaster is a man-made disaster caused by the ship company that only thinks about money and the irresponsible captain. Lee Joon-seok, the 68-year-old captain, was sitting in for the original captain who was on vacation. Yim Geung-soo, a professor at Mokpo National Maritime University who also served as a sailor on international merchant ships for 25 years, said, “The company should have hired a qualified captain. It must have hired a person who lacks responsibility and experience to save labor costs.” The captain was a one-year contractor and was paid around 2.7 million won (2,600 U.S. dollars) per month.

Under the acting captain of the ferry, the command system and the emergency manual did not work at all. When Jindo Vessel Traffic Service Center said, “The captain must make a final decision on evacuating passengers,” a crew member on the ferry said, “Can you rescue them when they escape from the ship?” The ship was only 1.5 kilometers away from Jindo. It is a distance that a fishing boat can reach within 10 minutes. If passengers in a life jacket had jumped from the deck, most of them would have been saved.

The captain and the crew who abandoned the ship leaving behind the passengers in the ship violated the “rule of the sea,” which has been a long tradition since the Titanic disaster. Charles Lightoller, the second mate on the Titanic, said in the Senate hearing, “As soon as I received the orders, I loaded women and children into lifeboats first. When he was asked, “Was it because of the rule of the sea," he said, “The rule of human nature.” He ordered them out of the boat at gunpoint, telling them “Get out of there, you damned cowards!”

The navigation bridge is the captain’s command post located in the middle of the deck. Edward John Smith, the captain of the Titanic, was holding the helm when the navigation bridge submerged and the windows were broken by water pressure. A passenger said to a reporter, “I saw water filling up to his waist.” Captain Smith made a mistake of going fast ignoring the warning of a floating ice when ice began to thaw. But he became a hero sinking with the ship.

There is a statue of Captain Smith in his hometown, Richfield, the U.K. His last words to the sailors “Be British” are engraved on the cooper plate. The words are often quoted by Korean media, but many believe that the words are created by British media and drama writers to glorify his heroic death. Nevertheless, they would have written so because they were proud of the captain and the crew. James McGann, a surviving sailor, clearly remembered Captain Smith’s last words. “You’ve done your duty. Look after yourselves now. God bless you.” He released the crew who did their best to save passengers to live for themselves.

Experts who knew well about passenger ferries suspected that the disaster was caused by containers and cars that were not properly tied. The cargo section had some 180 cars and 1,157 tons of containers. When the ferry took a turn, untied cargos moved to one side, which made the ship lose balance. The thumping sound when the ship tilted could have been caused by the collision of the containers.

To prevent such an incident, containers should be securely fixed by equipments and people. However, it is an open secret in the industry that they are not done so due to time and money. Some people say that cargos are released before arriving at the port of Jeju to save time for unloading cargos. It is likely that the ferry could have released containers because it left off two hours later than scheduled due to fogs. Police should investigate this.

Not all Korean captains are cowards. Koreans have Seok Hae-kyun, the captain of the Samho Jewelry. He risked his life to help the operation of destroyer Choi Young and the Korean Naval Special Warfare Flotilla. Although he was shot by pirates, he saved the crew and the vessel. Lee Joon-seok, the captain, disgraced Korean captains. It is not just his problem but the vulnerability of our society that the person who was drying his wet money bills while students were dying stuck in the ship was in charge of hundreds of lives.